Archive for Tertiary Education

Sauce for the goose but not for the gander

It was clear in the fall-out from the reduction in the numbers of students gaining university entrance in the recent round of NCEA results that the changes to the rules were driven by several principles that are of themselves quite worthy.

The first is that students should study a narrower range of subjects in order to know more. Or put another way, knowledge is gained vertically rather than horizontally. It is clear that the universities have believed this right from the very introduction of a standards-based assessment system when the move towards credits was described as the process by which knowledge had been turned into intellectual finger food!

That was not entirely true but there may have been a whiff of truth in it. Certainly depth of knowledge was thought to be in danger when students were given the opportunity to study subjects that are outside of the standard academic canon.

The second principle is that there should be a set of approved subjects that would be acceptable in making up the university entrance qualification. The existence of such an academic canon was the result of hundreds of years of development of universities as places of privilege and so certain subjects were also privileged. Such a list of privileged subjects was promulgated by the University Grants Committee and indeed even School Certificate maintained that privilege by on the one hand pretending to be norm-referenced while on the other using a procedure called “group mean referencing” whereby subjects undertaken by “brighter” students were scaled to a produce a higher set of results.

Now the education system has, some time ago, debated what real subjects were. “Twilight Golf” never made the cut, meditation had no observable actions that could be assessed, and language CDs handed out in cafes were thought to have had too few demands on the students. No complaint about all that.

But the firm grip that such views have enjoyed has seen a distortion on what was valued in terms of pathways to an education and to later success. Gradually only the track to university was valued in the school system and the capability and capacity of schools to provide programmes in areas that would grab the attention of young students was allowed to atrophy. The bog standard “academic” diet was going to nourish all the students.

When now there is a call for students to have the opportunity to study subjects based on applied learning and to specialize in technical areas that require skill and knowledge in greater depth in order to pursue fulfilling and useful lives in the community, that the argument is put forward that what students need is a broad and general education.

Is there a contradiction here?

 

“…For the loser now will be later to win…”

Just back from Australia and it is interesting how such a visit brings perspective to issues and topics of interest.

I have been feeling for some time now that things are about to change, especially in the Anglo-Saxon countries which for 50 years have by and large got a lot wrong in education.

Three connected themes are emerging:

·         earlier access to quality career and technical education which brings about improvements in educational outcomes;

 ·         the questioning of the absolute dominance of the university-bound “academic” pathway both for its appropriateness for many students and for its insatiable appetite to absorb funding;

 ·         the need for reconsideration of current sector organization models of the education systems which are increasingly seen as a troubling block to lifting achievement.

Each of the Anglo-Saxon educations systems is now seeing an increase in the numbers of students gaining earlier access to career and technical education. The pathways schools in Canada, the university technical colleges in the UK, many academy / charter schools in the USA, initiatives in Australia and, of course, the youth guarantee stable of secondary/tertiary programmes in New Zealand are each examples of how the integration of sound and continuing academic preparation can not only be combined with but is in fact enhanced by a closer focus on postsecondary qualifications in career and technical areas at a younger age.

The Anglo-Saxons simply have to come clean – the experiment of comprehensive high schools proved to be neither comprehensive nor very successful. The result was a set of educational and employment outcomes that were inferior to those achieved by the schools they replaced. I think I want to reject the view that the development of the comprehensive high schools were essentially based on snobbery – Germany had a dual system of both academic and technical tracks, we beat them in the war, so the American Dream was born – college for all, equity of access to top universities and so on. Well it never happened. Schools lost their variety, pathways disappeared and the so-called academic university-bound track became dominant. Good for those it suited and always had, disastrous for the rest.

But it is not simply a return to what used to be offered to students in a diverse set of schooling options – academic, general, technical, commercial and other tracks which defined outcomes at the outset of secondary education. The new and refreshed approach is one of multiple pathways that are both academic and vocational, which have flexibility, which provide a clear direction with different people delivering programmes in different places and with multiple purposes for learning. So talking the old industrial arts facilities and programmes and organisation out of mothballs won’t be sufficient.

This development in no way undervalues the university-bound pathway – this pathway is also both academic and vocational for many. There is though likely to be a competition for resources as the performance of the education system encourages funders to see that a more equitable spread of funding is a good and necessary investment. This emerged a little in Australia last week. In working to “real identifiable work” the schools will be required to find a new level of flexibility.

“Our kids need to know trades and training are first class career options just like university – they shouldn’t be made to feel like they’re playing on the ‘B Team’ “ says Aussie Federal Asst Minister for Education Sussan Ley. She also sees the need for schools to be more flexible in programme delivery allowing for “real work experience” – the challenge as to what constitutes “being at school” and the “school day” are in the wings and yet to come.

That leads to the third issue – the challenges to the sector organization of schooling. The Catholic education system in Australia is getting ready to shift Year 7 (the equivalent of our Year 8) up to secondary schools in order to provide for a transition that comes at a better spot in the students’ pathway, allowing for a more coherent “junior” high school and therefore opening the way for increased flexibility in the “senior” secondary school.

It is still my view that New Zealand should be seriously discussing the benefits and issues of placing the senior high school (i.e. Years 11-13) into the tertiary sector – now there’s a big topic. Such a shift would allow New Zealand to consider the features of education systems that we admire and give to them a New Zealand flavor.

Are the times a’changin’? If they are then lets hope for more than hugs and bean bags this time round.

 

Party at Hekia’s Place – BYOE Bring Your Own Excellence along

It looks as if 2014 is shaping up to be somewhat unusual for education in New Zealand – three key developments are happening.

In March a set of Education Festivals will be held in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Developed by Cognition Education and with the four key themes of COLLABORATION, INNOVATION, COHESION and CELEBRATION.   The festivals are co-ordinated by Cognition Education with the support of the Ministry of Education and will coincide with the 4th International Summit on the Teaching Profession, jointly hosted by the OECD, Education International and New Zealand through the MOE.

The festivals focused on two key dimensions, the performance of students, teachers, schools and institutions in our community and the proud record New Zealand has inspired improved educational achievement in other countries by sharing our expertise and systems.

The press education receives is generally at best miserable and at times plain negative. I have frequently pointed out that the profession too often contributes to this. Here is a golden opportunity for education to put on its best clothes and strut its stuff in public and rather then spout clichés  about a “world class education system” , to allow the outcomes of the work of schools and other education providers be seen and enjoyed by a wider community. Let the work and skills of our students be the push for the excellent brew that comes out in most schools.

An added opportunity is to be able to do this while an international community of educators is here as our guest – a chance not only to show and teach but also to listen and to learn. The participating countries at the 4th International Summit are the top 20 education systems as measured by the PISA  results and the five fastest improvers.

This is a unique opportunity for New Zealand to learn and to gain insights into how we can match achievement data with greatly improved equity measures.  Both the festival and the summit will allow us to share insights with others and to learn from the insights of others. This is not a bragging contest but potentially could be a fine week for education n New Zealand.

The Minister of Education Hon Hekia Parata is behind both of these initiatives and her leadership deserves strong support from the sector and from all levels within the sector.

The third element that could lift the image of education in New Zealand is the announcement, also from Minister Parata, of the inaugural Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards to be introduced for 2014. The tertiary education sector has had just such a set of awards for about 10 years and they have been markedly successful under the astute leadership of Ako Aotearoa.

This new set of awards will focus on early childhood education, primary and secondary schooling and collaboration between secondary schools, tertiary providers and employers. This last award – collaboration – is particularly pleasing coming at a time when it is emerging that pathways between sectors will be a critical feature of the new environment that will allow us to address equity.

Ands that brings us back to the festival and the summit. We need to see these three developments as a set of tools that the education system can use to create a better education sector, one characterised by collaboration, by clear evidence of excellence and by a commitment to improved equity of outcomes. We will do this in part by seeing collaboration (bringing the fragmented sector together for the festival) and celebrating (excellence in teaching through the awards) as necessary to lifting our game. Necessary but not in themselves sufficient – long term change will require us to make a habit of collaboration and celebration.

In summary:

  •          Festivals of Education  – Auckland (21-23 March 2014), Wellington (29 March 2014) and Christchurch (23 March 2014)
  •          The 4th International Summit on the Teaching Profession – March 2014 
  •          Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards – entries close 31 March 2014

Roll on March I say.

 

 

There’s more than one way to reach the stars!

Rather than let off a few sky rockets on yet another silly day we remember, hard on the heels of that even sillier day called Halloween, I thought I would throw a few ideas up in the air as we head towards the end of the year. These are called game-changers. They would lift educational performance in New Zealand. We have known most of these for a long time but other things get in the way. On Thursday I will give a complementary list of show-stoppers.

Principals of secondary schools are welcome to use these lists as they put the final touches to their prize-giving addresses.

The “Game Changers” List

1. Access to early childhood education

It astounds me that in this rich country we still have uneven distribution of opportunity for early childhood education. I do not need to repeat the evidence, it is over whelming. And the lack of equity in the area is hidden by two factors – quirky gatherings of information about actual participation (likely to be lower than reported) and the evening out of statistics into regional and national figures.

A stark statistic: In the Tamaki suburb in Auckland there are 7,000 youngsters under the age of five and there are 2,000early childhood education places.

A quick but excellent fix: In areas of low participation, add an early childhood facility to each primary school – same Board, same management, shared outdoor facilities, great savings. Best of all, it would be goodbye to the entangling bureaucracy that surrounds the development of conventional centres.

2 Greater attention to basic skills in primary schools

I might be naïve but it is bizarre that in the country that led the world not only in reading performance but also in the teaching of reading that so many children fail to reach a safe standard in the eight years of primary schooling. The same can be said of mathematics (sometimes called numeracy). Add to the list the development of knowledge, social skills, preparedness for further education, and exposure to arts and practical skills all in a context of new technologies and you would have not only an interesting programme but one which didn’t place so many students on a trajectory of failure.

A stark fact: Students show a decline in learning in key areas between Year 4 and Year 8.

A quick but excellent fix: Demand that primary schools do less but that they do it to higher standards. The foundation skills are taught in primary schools. Isn’t it ironic that the term “foundation skills” has been transferred to the first several years of post-secondary education and training for those who have failed to accrue such skills and this is clearly too late.

3. See a clear distinction between junior and senior secondary schools.

Education systems that we admire and would wish to emulate invariably have a clear distinction between what is in New Zealand Year 10 and Year 11. The first two years of high school are years of finishing off the processes started in primary school and the preparation for discipline focussed study that is in a context of future employment. Years 11 and 13 in these overseas systems are clearly differentiated with the availability of clear vocational technical opportunities emerging to complement the university track (which is working well in New Zealand). In other words, young students have choices about their futures.

Another shared feature is that at that age students are credited with much greater maturity but also supported to a much greater degree. The style and organisation of schooling is more akin to a tertiary institution than to the primary schools from which the secondary schools evolved.

A stark statistic: By age 16 years 21% of 16 year olds have dropped out of New Zealand schooling system.

A quick but excellent fix:  Sorry folks, but there isn’t one. This area is where the most comprehensive reforms are needed. Put simply, apart from the track to university, the New Zealand senior secondary school is broken. That style of education no longer suits too many of our young people. Don’t despair – we share this with our sibling systems in Australia, the United States, the UK and most of Canada. WE need to look elsewhere for evidence of what works and then craft our own responses for our particular circumstances.

4 Cement the output of graduates from tertiary education to employment.

There needs to be a clear line of sight between tertiary programmes and employment. I know that the universities resist any such notion – I have been told by those who know that such a connection is not helpful – “We do not train people, we educate them.” Just think of it, all those untrained doctors, ophthalmologists, engineers, lawyers – what rubbish such a claim is.  And in light of the unrelenting marketing of universities as the place to secure a future, to get high earning powered positions it is simply not sense.

Tertiary education is expensive both for the taxpayer and for the students who are the sons and daughters of taxpayers. They have a right to know that their investment in education at a tertiary level be it at a university, an ITP, a PTE a Wananga or wherever will lead to a job. If a degree in business has prepared you to look after the valet parking desk at the airport (as was a case I came across recently) then it can only be concluded that the programme offered little in the way of access.

A stark statistic:  About one half of those who start a post-secondary qualification actually complete it.

A quick but excellent fix:  it seems as if we are drifting towards a situation where tertiary providers are to be held accountable for the progress into employment of their graduates. If this were applied to all levels and types of tertiary education it might well be a good thing. Of course it would have to be first accepted that a key purpose of post-secondary education and training is to get the appropriate job. This might also require a better connection between demand and supply in the labour market. Consideration of these a matters need to be sped up.

Pathways-ED: It’s not just another project!

“You mean that you don’t have any scheduled classes on a Wednesday?” I asked wondering what was happening here.

“That’s right, the students spend that time doing their impact projects,” the Principal replied. “We call them the Impact Projects and it gives them a chance to bring their learning together and apply it for a practical purpose.”

I had been invited to participate in the celebration evening at the Albany Senior High School. Thinking about it as I headed across the Harbour Bridge, I wondered if this would be like so many of the many Science Fairs I had attended, or the other efforts I have seen where students generate hugely disproportionate amounts of energy and fun but produce not a lot – never mind the quality, or the warmth.

I was sure that what I was about to see would not challenge the amazing activity I had once seen at High Tech High in San Diego. There the students were nearing the end of the semester and this school, located in buildings in an old and historic naval base, had developed a project-based approach. Students were too busy to talk to me but they took time out to quickly explain what they were doing, etc. It was greatly impressive as they gave voice to the learning they had. Mature scholarship and youthful inventiveness characterised the typical project.

In New Zealand many tertiary programmes, especially in IT, have a requirement for a keystone project towards the end of the course. Would the high school projects be like these but perhaps at a lower level?

Well, was I in for a surprise. I saw that evening some of the most advanced and mature work I have ever seen high school level students produce. It was remarkable.

Microsoft had agreed to publish an app developed by one student that simply but incrementally taught a learner the basics of music theory. It was clever in its conception and beautiful in its execution. Clean lines, simple instructions. The student was articulate both about the IT and the music. Other music projects included performance, original compositions and, the building of a “copy” Les Paul guitar. To this last student I was able to chat about a concert I had seen Les Paul give in a jazz club in NewYork. We shared an enthusiasm.

Another student saw his project develop out of his after-school / holiday job in a surf store. He had set about developing the complete array of programmes and IT services needed to run the business especially the customer end of it – using barcode for stock control, an interactive and youthful internet store (increased turn-over = ten-fold). This was IT, business, strategic thinking, all wrapped into a very smart piece of work.

It was appropriate that in that very week where those daring young men, sailors in their flying machines were bouncing around San Francisco harbour, a further project had built a small craft that lifted out of the water on foils. The group had encountered issues, all tackled and resolved as the project unfolded.

There were dance performances, art projects (original painted shoes, a graphic novel, an origami chandelier), environmental projects (I loved the recycled furniture project – from inorganic collection to art work) and so on.

What was the point of all this? Well, quite clearly in the face of such explicit evidence of learning, some excellent teaching had occurred. But that seemed minor in light of two more important elements.

There had been extensive engagement with the community across this array of projects. Business, local government, tertiary education providers, retailers, primary schools, and sports organisations both local and national. This is just a sample. Students were faced not only with finding a confidence in doing this but also a security about their own learning as they interacted with busy people. The school had confidence in these exchanges which might have caused some nervousness in a more conventional setting.

The other exciting element was that the students were clearly demonstrating the qualities and skills that are so often spoken about as the soft skills of employment. Certainly they are the skills sought by tertiary education providers as students move into the higher levels of learning and qualifications. Team work, strategising, planning, implementing, setting of goals, ability to think creatively, to be articulate about technical knowledge and suchlike are the key outcomes of a good grounding in the basic skills.

Schools such as Albany Senior High School are leading the way in showing that having confidence in the quality of your programmes and in the the teaching / learning dynamic of the school then liberates the students and allows them to use new learning and develop new skills in ways in which the quality of the activity is nourished by personal interest, need and passion. I say need because one student had realised that she was light in physics given the direction her interests had developed – she saw an opportunity in her project work to do something about this.

Perhaps all this was summed up for me in a comment from Lucy in a reflective piece that looked back on her Impact Project experience – “The highlight for me was being able to learn from Amy.” This captured the essence of a good programme where the teacher stood aside and students saw the real lifelong learning resource -those around them.

Proud parents and grandparents, excited and animated young people, teachers who knew their job had been well done – education at its best.

 

Pathways-ED: Bridging the Divides with Pathways

 

 

Over the past two days 260 educators have been meeting in Auckland at the third National Conference on Pathways and Transitions – Bridging the Divides : Secondary-Tertiary-Employment Transitions for Learner Success.

The conference was organised by the Manukau Institute of Technology Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways in association with Ako Aotearoa, the University of Auckland, the Ministry of Education, Cognition Education and Cyclone Computers. This “family of six” reflects the importance given to the topic and the extent to which it has moved more and more towards centre stage in the awareness of those who care about improving students outcomes.

There are two key concepts – the notion of “transitions” and that of “pathways”. We know that the transitions between and within the different parts of the education system are choke points in the journey students face as they pursue an education. The shift from ECE to primary, primary to intermediate and subsequently for all, into secondary, then on into some postsecondary education which finally move into employment is a reflection of a system that is built for the adults that survived rather than the learner/student.

Dr Joel Vargas from the Jobs for the Future Foundation in Boston U.S. showed that the loss of students at transition points was an issue that went well beyond our shores. We know that we “lose” over 4,000 students between primary and secondary, that 20% of students drop out, that half of those starting a postsecondary qualification do not complete. Much of this waste of talent and potential is the result of the issues surrounding transitions. And there is that transition form the stages of education into employment.

Associate Professor Leesa Wheelahan (University of Melbourne) reminded the conference of the weak link between education and employment, a point reinforced by business leaders who addressed the conference.

Transitions need to have “pathways” if they are to lead to the levels of seamlessness that will address the issues of the dysfunctional transitions which might more correctly be thought of as fractures.

Pathways are seamless, start somewhere and arrive somewhere else. In themselves they are an organising principle that calls for connection and quirks each of those who work on each side of the crevasse to work together. It is interesting that some of the systems we admire have solved this issue through looking to sector reform to shape a system based around the needs of young people rather than around the sensitivities of adults.

260 educators working to address these issues simply have to make a difference. There is developing a community of practice that is seeking to construct new pathways and transitions with a more seamless approach to create increased likelihood of more positive educational outcomes for more students.

This was a clear message of the Minister of Education Hon Hekia Parata who in addressing the conference emphasised the Better Public Service goals as clear markers for outcomes which the system must work towards.

This will require us to work differently but this will not always require us to embrace startling and new or radical ideas. As has been a theme of recent EDTalkNZ pieces, some of the ideas have moved across the education stage before. The notion of a “jagged edge”, even “seamlessness” and the reforms of Post Compulsory Education and Training in the 1980s had canvased many of the changes now being seriously considered – a point made elegantly by Professor Gary Hawke who led the reforms back then. Professor Hawke made an interesting point in his reminder that we need to focus on post compulsory rather than postsecondary.

So it was an exciting gathering where ideas surfaced and were considered, where for two days there was a coming together of people working towards shared goals. The things that divide us in education were parked at the door and students were considered. Many were impressed by the eloquence and directed energy of the students, especially one who had gone through the MIT Tertiary High School.  He had made the transition from risk to reward, from being given no hope in school to seeing a pathway that would take him into a job he loves and which opens up a big wide world.

It is early days but directions are emerging that hold the promise of an education system that will deliver pathways to students that see them college (postsecondary) ready and career ready. If we can achieve this we will perhaps avoid the demographic time bomb that ticks away and was so clearly described by Sir Mark Solomon.

 

It could be that in time is not on our side in these issues.

 

Talk-ED: That was the year that was… what?

 

Another academic year, another school year, another calendar year draws to a close. Down south we are blessed by the double impact of alignment between the academic year and the calendar year. The pressures and heightened activities of both conspire to produce a feeling that it is all a bit too hectic and we resolve that next year we will manage all this differently. But we never do.

It is the conventional response to be tired at this time of the year. Everyone is “looking forward to a break” and holiday plans are chatted about with enthusiasm even those that entail staying at home and rejoicing in a city emptied of the crowds who have now gone elsewhere to be crowds. 

This year has, in New Zealand anyway, been a rather irritable one for education.

The school system was stirred by a number of issues that arose just as last year’s issue – the introduction of national standards into primary schools – was settling. It had been a long battle between schools who felt that the standards (NZ’s answer to NAPLAN) were damaging and constricting, unnecessary and misleading. On the other hand the Government felt that they gave valuable information to parents and caregivers that was necessary and informative in a manner that should not impact negatively on the school. It was a long discussion but schools by and large grumpily got on with the job. 

Then along came the issue of student / teacher ratios – the formula used to calculate the number of teachers in a school. This turned overnight into an autumnal storm of impressive proportions. There were winners and losers in this – the senior secondary school being the winners – but this was quickly lost in the discussion, especially when it was realised that an allowance that delivered a considerable number of teachers to intermediate schools had also gone.

The Government blew the whistle and called the whole thing off. Claims of victory and defeat masked the fact that once again current practice had prevailed and things would carry on the same. But not for long. 

The Minister of Education announced the establishment of a Minister’s Cross Sector Forum for Improving Achievement – a gathering of about 20 people who reflected the whole system, its component parts, its sectors, its major community groups and so on.

The discussion had gone indoors rather than being played out in the media. Here was an opportunity for vigorous discussion across the system to address the issues of why so many young people were failing and why so many were disengaging when so many were succeeding and doing well in our bipolar education system. In middle earth can the conundrum of western education systems be unscrambled? Watch this space. 

At last early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary educators were starting to address some of the key topics. The urgency of this was increased by the commitment of the Government to a set of Better Public Service Targets which included three overtly aimed at education: access to quality early childhood education, the levels of graduation from high school and the numbers obtaining a post secondary qualification at about a diploma level. These are each a serious challenge to the education system and it is clear that there is work to do.

So it wasn’t helpful that when a new teacher payroll system was introduced it contained quite a few blips. This is a huge payroll with over 90,000 being paid each fortnight. So inevitably there would be slips and errors. This was neither desirable nor a surprise. What did surprise was the feeding frenzy from the media about the whole business. Teachers in New Zealand are not employed by the Ministry of Education but by their local school Board of Trustees. The employer / employee relationship is between the individual and his or her Board. But you could get no sense of that as the Ministry of Education in its role as salary servicing agent was the target for the raised voices. 

Years ago I recall a similar situation and then the school Board as employer simply paid the teacher who had missed out by cheque and sorted it out. But the opportunity for yet another public stoush was not to be lost. And that was a distraction somewhat for at the same time things were happening at the post-secondary level.

The Tertiary Education Commission had decided that in the next round of funding, increased proportions of the lower level entry programmes in tertiary institutions were to be withdrawn and reallocated to the private sector and to the Wananga. The consequences of this are profound not only for the impact on institutions losing significant amounts of funding, but also for the impact on the nature of those entry areas in tertiary institutions. The polytechnics in New Zealand have the role of being the open access institutions that can take those who wish to work towards a serious qualification from wherever they are to that goal. The Community Colleges, TAFE institutions and further education provision, all play a similar role in other countries. This provision of a seamless progression through those early years and into “real qualifications’ is central to lifting achievement. But this could not attract the attention of the mainstream media. 

That was partly because they were still thumping the drum on the restructuring of schooling in post-quake Christchurch. It is clear that the kinds of changes – mergers, clusters, reshaped institutions – are the sorts of changes that will have to become more common throughout New Zealand as the system repositions itself for the changing demographics. Christchurch is an early starter in this because of the damage brought about by two major earthquakes. The thousand of after-shocks have left people feeling that they need respite from all this.

It must be time for the Christmas break

 

 

 

Pathways-ED: Is "most" good enough?

 

Auckland as a city has an ambition to be the world’s most liveable city, it’s something of an organising principle for aligning the efforts, goals and direction of this newly created entity.

One of the outward signs of this is the publication of a “Scorecard” that rates progress on a number of measures. In education the measure is the number of students in schools that attain NCEA Level 1 Literacy and Numeracy.

There are a number of issues with this.

First, it takes no account of those who are not in the NCEA net. We know that 21% of 16 year olds have already left school and are most likely not to have even attempted NCEA. The failure to take account of cohort measures continues to mislead us in our assessment of progress. That is why I presume the Government settled on “all 18 year olds” as the group that would be measured for the Better Public Service Goals.

Secondly, the performance is very unevenly reflected in the various ways that results can be diced. Along ethnic lines there are still worrying differences between Pakeha students and those who are from Maori and Pacific Island communities. Auckland carries a responsibility for a very significant number of young Maori and Pacific students, a greater proportion than other cities and global measures do not reflect progress when it occurs when they are reported as one measure. That is why I presume the Government settled on the principle with its Better Public Service Goal –  85% of all 18 years old having NCEA Level 2 (or its equivalent) – and stating clearly that the target would apply to each and every group, Maori, Pacific, Special Needs, Migrant, Pakeha, Rural, City and so on.

Thirdly, the Scorecard is not bound by target or time; it simply reflects what is called progress. But progress to where and in what timeframe? How will we know when the education system is performing well and contributing what is expected of it to the world’s most liveable city goal? Knowing simply that we are “getting better” by small increments” has a feel good factor but in reality might be lagging behind the pace of improvement needed. That is why I presume the Government settled on establishing 2017 as the point at which the Better Public Service Goal should be met.

Now the explanation given in the Scorecard is that NCEA Level 1 Literacy and Numeracy is “the equivalent of School Certificate”. Well, it is certainly not. Whether you use the old SC (200/400 in your best four subjects including English) or the later version (single subject passes), NCEA Level 1 Literacy or Numeracy nowhere near equates to neither. No one is going to burst onto the world of work or into a career with that as their qualification.

The irony of all this is that the Auckland Council somewhat led the way in settling on NCEA Level 2 as a sensible goal. That is because it reflects what can be considered as a satisfactory measure of a level of success at school. But even NCEA Level 2 is meaningful only to the extent that it is used as a foundation on which a post-secondary school qualification is gained. Auckland Council “joined the dots” in its Auckland Plan and in its Economic Development Policy ahead of the Government settling on its Better Public Service Goals. And both were right to do so.

I have long promoted the notion of “joining the dots” – access to early childhood education, NCEA Level 2 and a postsecondary qualification. All here are essential markers on the pathway to a secure future. Hon Nick Smith, then Minister of Local Government, in the last days of his tenure of this position, criticised the Auckland Plan for having such goals. Soon after we were to see the Government similarly “join the dots” in the Better Public Service Goals.

A seamless progression along the pathways of education at the pace that sees all students hitting the NCEA Level 2 (or its equivalent) marker by about the age of 18 years will lead to an educated and knowledgeable city. And a city that is educated and knowledgeable is likely to become a very liveable city because it will have opportunities for employment, quality democratic processes, vibrant art and culture features with participation, leisure and sport opportunities. Above all it will have a performing economy with growth that will sustain now over a third of the population of New Zealand.

Where you place the target tends to be about where the arrow goes. Let’s stick to worthy targets.

 

 

Pathways-ED: Degrees of difference: Money or the BAg!

 

Oh dear, what a little fluster we got ourselves into when the newspapers came out with the news that our degrees don’t lead to much financial advantage for the students who slave to get them. And let’s not take anything away from that achievement.

 

First, degrees are worth a lot. As pointed out by AUT’s Derek McCormack, degrees provide advantage in the employment stakes and those with jobs tend to have financial advantage over those who don’t!  Some degrees are in high demand and do provide not only better starting remuneration but also greater rapidity in a rising career trajectory – Auckland University VC Stuart McCutcheon pointed this out.

 

Bob Jones of course had his contribution to make with his well-known view that degrees weren’t important unless they were in the thinking subjects such as history. He requires prospective employees to be readers, the mark of the thinking person. He has a strong point here. The parchment is not the endpoint of a degree but a lifetime of access to ideas is.

 

It is sad when a discussion about higher education settles down to the level of a whinge about pay but the newspaper in an indignant editorial did raise that old argument about whether education, especially Higher education was a private gain or a public good. It is a silly argument because it is and always has been both.

 

Of course it is a private good, a student who gets a degree (the mark of what is taken to be an education at that point) is privileged through a likelihood that they will be employed, be less likely to be in jail, more likely to have better health and housing. Importantly, their families are more likely to follow in their educational footsteps and even exceed the success they have had. Money? Well there is also advantage there but not as much as in some other countries. Relative to remuneration levels those differences might not be as great as they are portrayed.

 

Public good?  Of course there is a level of public good. While some of the rising credentialism that has occurred over the past fifty years has had an irrational element to it, degrees are an important entry qualification into many professions. The legal profession and the medical profession have always required bachelor degree level qualification for entry into those professions. Now a host of others also require degrees – teaching, nursing, accountancy and town-planning. This is more the result of the push to increase the numbers of degrees offered and the clear increased focus on being vocational that came out of the feral 1990s when the tertiary institutions battled it out for market share.

The private gain / public good argument received its big push in the Treasury briefing papers of 1987 which was responsible for the education system taking a swing to the right in what did become something of a fees rocky horror show for many students. The private good argument won back then and ever since every taxpayer funds degree programmes to all starters. It will be looked at again one day when questions are raised about the sense of this wholesale money laundering scheme that leaves too many young people in debt.

 

But what was not highlighted in the discussion was that while degrees are important they are not the only qualifications that are both needed and highly valued. New Zealand probably does not need increased numbers of graduates with degrees. What we do need are those with quality intermediate qualifications – the technicians, the supervisors working at the applied practical end of successful business, industry and commerce – the ones that keep the wheels oiled and turning. That is the “skill shortage” and, now it seems, that is the group that we are losing to overseas opportunities.  This is not an argument that dimishes the value of a degree but one which simply draws attention to a fact.

 

Of course we need degrees but even the Tertiary Education Commission joined the feverish chorus in a recent youth transitions paper by emphasising the importance of “higher qualifications (particularly degree level)”. Australia, the US and the UK have all set targets for the proportion of people who should have a degree that they have not a chance of meeting. It is much more intelligent to have targets such as those set by the Better Public Service Goals (85% of 18 year olds with NCEA Level 2 by 2017 and 55% of 25-34 year olds with a Level 4+ qualifications by 2017) – they are achievable and are key markers of both the school system and the tertiary system getting our young people onto a success trajectory.

 

Nor are university degrees the only degrees that are valued. The MOE published a useful little report in 2009, Does it really matter where you study, which compared the relative benefits of a bachelors degree gained from a university with those gained from a polytechnic. Its findings are not complex and are that:

 

  •           the labour market in New Zealand “appears not to discriminate” against polytechnic degrees;
  •           the starting pay is “roughly the same” regardless of the provider;
  •           after five years those with a university degree do edge ahead with a “relatively small advantage at the upper end”;
  •           in fields of speciality for the polytechnics  such as IT, commerce, engineering and architecture there is “little difference” and in some cases in these areas, the polytechnic graduates are earning more.
  •           the study was unable to find evidence that provider quality leads to a gap in earnings over time.

As with all qualifications a degree is merely a stepping stone to further education, to employment, to enhanced life choices and chances and to the likelihood of increased opportunity for your children.

 

If you can’t take pleasure from all that and want to have a grumble about money, seek solace in the fact that you are doing for your child rather than yourself.